Gouldsboro bows out of enforcing timber rules

GOULDSBORO — The Board of Selectmen voted Thursday to remove the town from any legal involvement in a case of possible violations related to shoreland-zone tree cutting.

Board Chairman Dana Rice said during the meeting that he felt the town shouldn’t play a role in enforcement and that the Maine Forest Service should be responsible for carrying out rules.

The decision was in response to a months-long question surrounding the cutting of trees on Point Francis. The contractor who cut the trees, Hancock-based lumberer George Moon, was hired by property owners Keith Young and Susan Webber to carry out a growth plan aimed at sustaining the forest vitality on the property.

Part of that plan, Moon has said in interviews and at various meetings, was to remove trees that were diseased or could easily be blown over by wind. Town officials, including Code Enforcement Officer Rebecca Albright, have disputed this claim, saying their reviews of the property didn’t reveal diseased trees.

The Forest Service has been investigating the case to determine whether any cuts made by Moon could be considered violations. In the meantime, Gouldsboro officials have been trying to determine what role they should play in enforcing the shoreland rules.

During the meeting Thursday, Planning Board Chairman Ray Jones told Rice he felt an appropriate action would be for the town to enter into a consent agreement with the forest service.

Rice said he felt there were too many unanswered questions, and described “backing out altogether” as a “damn good idea.”

He put the question to Moon, who was also present: would a consent agreement work for him?

“I would like to know the details before I agree to anything,” Moon said. “It wasn’t a timber harvest; it was a tree growth management plan.”

Selectman Roger Bowen said during the meeting that he would abstain from voting on the issue because he felt it wasn’t necessary at this stage to remove the town from the proceedings. The Forest Service was still putting together its findings on the case, Bowen said, and the board might as well wait until the agency issues a report.

“I would suggest at this point, you just sit on it,” Bowen said. “I don’t want to say yay or nay … I feel like we’re voting on incomplete information.”

Ultimately, the board approved Rice’s motion to remove the town from legal proceedings by a vote of 4-1.

The issue of how enforcement should be handled dates back to 2013, but is only being addressed for the first time now.

Nearly five years ago, the Planning Board entered into an agreement with the Forest Service: If any violations are found in the area of tree harvesting, it would be the joint responsibility of the town and the state to handle the issue.

That agreement, which turned down the option to give full control over violations to either the town or the state, made Gouldsboro a rare case. Only 76 towns in Maine have chosen that option.

But for the moment, unless the Board of Selectmen votes to re-enter the case, the violations will be handled exclusively by the Forest Service.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.